Pure imagination

The following imagination-centered picture books encourage readers’ own creative thoughts and ideas to take fanciful flight.

When I Draw a Panda 
by Amy June Bates; illus. by the author 
Primary    Wiseman/Simon    40 pp.    g 
9/20    978-1-4814-5148-2    $17.99 
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-5149-9    $10.99 

In this celebration of imagination, creativity, and friendship, a girl’s chalk-drawn panda leaps off her wall, and together they doodle their way through various adventures. Before the panda makes an appearance, the child is frustrated because “sometimes when they say to draw a perfect circle, mine turns out a little wonky.” She draws more and more nonperfect circles until the panda emerges from the apparent scribbles. Like the girl, the panda “draws his own way.” When instructed to “draw something pretty,” Panda draws “something pretty silly.” Asked to draw “a perfect pirate, superhero, crocodile, mad scientist, or princess,” Panda “prefers to draw an imperfect, super heroic, madly scientific, piratical princess crocodile.” With each new directive, the innovative pair draws something radical, creative, and unexpected. In illustrations rendered in watercolor, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil, the child’s and panda’s textured and flowy drawings pop against backgrounds that resemble a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard; perspective and sizing shifts reflect the pair’s spontaneous creative energy. On the last spread, the girl contentedly colors in a blank book not far from a giant stuffed panda sitting in the corner of her room, leaving readers to wonder and surmise. The endpapers provide some step-by-step drawings. The unexpected creativity and adventure that spring from “coloring outside the lines,” as it were, will resonate with free spirts (and maybe even some perfectionists). EMMIE STUART 

Milo Imagines the World 
by Matt de la Peña; illus. by Christian Robinson 
Primary    Putnam    40 pp.    g 
2/21    978-0-399-54908-3    $18.99 
Spanish ed.  978-0-593-35462-9    $18.99 
e-book ed.  978-0-399-54909-0    $10.99 

Harold and the Purple Crayon meets twenty-first-century urban realism in this picture book by the Last Stop on Market Street (rev. 1/15) author-illustrator team (simultaneously published in Spanish as Milo imagina el mundo). Milo, a diminutive brown-skinned boy with round glasses and a lime-green hat, boards a subway train with his big sister. While she plays games on her phone, Milo studies people and imagines lives for them through his notebook and colored pencils. Robinson’s art alternates between color-saturated, double-page-spread scenes of train activity and Milo’s sketches. Milo sees a boy wearing a suit and draws him as a prince arriving at his castle; for a wedding-gown-clad passenger, Milo draws her imagined ceremony. He then reimagines and re-illustrates many of his scenes, intentionally looking at his subjects in a different way. Milo and his sister finally reach their destination: a detention center, where they visit their incarcerated mother (the boy on the subway who was wearing a suit is visiting someone, too). As in Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book Visiting Day (rev. 11/02), the joy and parent-child love shine through, and the climax comes with Milo’s sharing of a special drawing he has created for his mother. This poignant, thought-provoking story speaks volumes for how art can shift one’s perspectives and enable an imaginative alternative to what is…or seems to be. MICHELLE H. MARTIN 

I Can Make a Train Noise 
by Michael Emberley and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick; illus. by the authors 
Preschool, Primary    Porter/Holiday    32 pp.    g 
7/21    978-0-8234-4496-0    $18.99 
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-5063-3    $11.99 

The action begins on the book’s cover, where readers can spot a young child and her family walking down a busy city street, headed into a bustling café. Inside, they encounter even more noise among its preoccupied patrons, whose thought and speech bubbles fill the page with gray clouds, worries, and complaints. The young child looks out at the ­readers, asserting, “I can make a train noise now!” (This sentence and its variants compose the entire text.) Soon she hops off her chair and, through a portal in the book, sweeps her surroundings into new order as the café becomes a car on a speeding train. Across each subsequent spread, the font of the propulsive refrain/mantra (“I can make a train noise, I can make a train noise, I can make a train noise, now!”) grows, shrinks, and swerves, offering cues for an engaging read-aloud experience. The train races through an In the Night Kitchen–esque cityscape of tall condiments and kitchen tools, whistles through a tunnel, and emerges into spacious, serene landscapes. As the train finally returns to the city and slows to a stop — “I…can…make…a…train…noooiiissssssse…now!” — and the passengers rearrange themselves into the more-familiar café, the former gloom and grayness has been transformed into cheer and community. Lush with colorful and richly detailed illustrations, this innovative picture book compels its readers to get on board with the sound, speed, and rhythm of a train powered by a child’s imagination. GRACE MCKINNEY 

The Whole Hole Story 
by Vivian McInerny; illus. by Ken Lamug 
Primary    Versify/Houghton    40 pp.    g 
1/21    978-0-358-12881-6    $17.99 
e-book ed.  978-0-358-12948-6    $12.99 

Zia, a brown-skinned girl with a huge afro puff and an expansive imagination, discovers a hole in her pocket. Then the hole moves to the ground and enlarges, and Zia falls in. (“She might have been afraid except that this was an imaginary hole, so it could only be as scary as she allowed, which was, in this case, not scary at all. ‘I hate scary stories,’ said Zia.”) Wearing overalls that are transformed from drab brown to vibrant red and yellow when she travels from her sepia-toned world to one of full color, Zia creates her own fantastical adventures, always centering the hole. She fills it with water and uses a bow-tie-wearing worm to catch a regal-looking fish; she then declares the hole a swimming hole and cannonballs in, among other exploits. Throughout, Zia and her ingenious imagination remain in complete control. Lamug’s innovative and zany colorful illustrations, created with “pencil, paper and some computer magic,” exude joy and endless possibilities, portraying Zia in perpetual motion. The continuity of the backgrounds within this circular tale often suggests that Zia hasn’t traveled far, but given that her overalls stay colorful at the end of the story, it’s clear that her creative adventures have changed everything. A trip you won’t want to miss with a kid who can take you anywhere. Pair with Barnett and Klassen’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (rev. 11/14). MICHELLE H. MARTIN 

The Museum of Everything 
by Lynne Rae Perkins; illus. by the author 
Primary    Greenwillow    40 pp.    g 
5/21    978-0-06-298630-6    $17.99 

In this big, noisy world, a museum, even if it’s only in one’s imagination, is a place of quiet contemplation. With this absorbing and original picture book, Perkins offers a special sanctuary for curious and creative dreamers, a space to think about, explore, and possibly curate a few collections of their own. No exhibit or artifact is too small or ephemeral to be included. The unnamed child narrator considers establishing a Museum of Hiding Places; a museum made up exclusively of shadows; and, of course, a Sky Museum, which is open all the time, with exhibits that change daily. The child envisions a Museum of Bushes, complete with an interactive exhibit — a roomful of “bushskirts” for visitors to try on and twirl in. Other intriguing installations include a model of “an island in a pond on an island in a pond on an island in a pond on an island in a pond” and a Museum of Little Things (a.k.a. a windowsill), with found treasures to look at one at a time, or all together. The book features Perkins’s vibrantly colored (and beautifully displayed) 3-D art, shadow boxes, dioramas, and miniature displays, complete with curtained backdrops and prosceniums. Many of the pages include photographic elements and realistic detail, with dashes of whimsy and creative flair to match the child’s inventive musings. A perfect lead-in to a museum visit or a STEAM-based contemplation titled the “Museum of Things I Wonder About.” LUANN TOTH 

A Fort on the Moon 
by Maggie Pouncey; illus. by Larry Day 
Primary    Porter/Holiday    32 pp.    g 
11/20    978-0-8234-4657-5    $18.99 

Young narrator Dodge and his older brother Fox have a single goal — to build a fort on the moon. The brothers’ strong resolve playfully clashes with their father’s unsolicited input (“Our dad is an engineer, so he thinks he knows a lot about building”) and their mother’s grown-up skepticism. Once night falls, and their parents are asleep, the snowsuit-and-helmet-clad brothers head to the roof, where they find their homemade (and highly creative) ship and blast off. A bit of a bumpy landing leads to some exploration on the moon, “mysterious and dark, like a mountain turned inside out, a volcano floating in midair.” The mission takes a turn for the worse (and Dodge throws a tantrum, expertly redirected by a reassuring Fox), but soon they manage to create an impressive, if ramshackle, fort. They head back to Earth and a breakfast of “pancakes shaped like astronauts, stars, and the moon.” Day’s illustrations (“pencil, pen, and ink with watercolor and gouache”), starring a family with subtly varied skin tones, skillfully alternate spot art, panels, single pages, and double-page spreads. An appealingly textured warm blue serves as stand-in for the inky darkness of night and outer space — fitting the narrative’s upbeat spirit. PATRICK GALL 

From the July 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
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